Leo Tolstoy’s “Art is an Infection”

Brenda Ueland wrote about Tolstoy in her 1938 book If You Want to Write. Tolstoy believed, “the artist has a feeling and he expresses it and at once this feeling infects other people and they have it, too.”

Ms. Ueland explained that when an artist exhibits feelings “honestly and courageously” onto a canvas, through music, in writing, or some other venue and means, the artist infects the creation with passion. Through this, the artist brings emotion to the viewer, listener, or reader who experiences it within themselves.

Is this what an artist should strive for? An infection of their feelings in their work? Or, should they just produce something that makes them money?

Of course, it is not possible for everyone to be infected by an artist’s work. Also, artists do not always succeed infecting their work with passion and honesty. Some don’t even try and see their work as a product to be sold.

This is all right because some buyers only want a distraction in their life or a decoration to be ignored. Besides, making something honestly and courageously takes time. An artist can make more products (and money) if they don’t spend a lot of effort in their creation.

It’s too bad because Ms. Ueland thought that, when an artist tells what they truly feel, the infection could become universal. “Everybody understands it and at once.” I think today we call that going viral.

I think an artist should strive, at least one time in their life, to create an art they will always love. Something they want the world to witness, an infection of their honesty and courageousness, passion and emotion. Even if it may not become a classic at first.

Branding

Every grant submission is an opportunity for a nonprofit to brand themselves. This means anyone seeing the logo (yes, you should have one) or unique acronym (you should have this, too) will know who the nonprofit is and what they do.

Businesses use branding to attract customers. Branding in nonprofits let foundations and donors know immediately what they are funding. Seeing the logo and acronym is an eye catcher for people to remember the nonprofit’s purpose. Of course, branding is not easy.

Coming up with a logo and acronym is difficult (be sure no one else has it). But, it’s not impossible (yeah, easy to state). Despite the difficulty, nonprofits should create a branding before writing grants or asking for donations.

The branding should be why the nonprofit is helping people. Those working and volunteering at the nonprofit should take the lead in designing the brand and not hand it over to strangers who may charge a large fee. In the end, use a graphic business who may charge little in exchange for advertisement or other benefit. Keep a branding simple.

An example of a branding could be some use of the letters in a nonprofit’s name (a.k.a. acronym). Also, use of a unique font (minimize color choices). Definitely make everything legible. Also, a logo and acronym can be the same thing.

No one knows a nonprofit more than the people who are there every day. They should help in creating the logo and acronym because they are the ones who first must accept it.

Branding helps a lot in grant writing, particularly in lengthy requests where the brand can be placed everywhere for emphasis. This is what writing a grant is about – having as many people as possible know who the nonprofit is by a glance.

Starting Off and Writing to the End

People in the writing business talk about how important it is to grab a reader’s attention at the start of a story. Yet, the beginning, middle, and end all make the story. The catchy beginning is only remembered by what followed.

As an example, Moby-Dick’s opening line, “Call me Ishmael,” is considered a memorable beginning. However, if a reader never heard of the book, the line is meaningless. It is famous only because of what followed.

After reading a story, I have no clue what the first line said. I remember more the middle and end rather than the beginning. I think a story can recover from an okay beginning, but not a so-so middle and ending.

Catchy beginnings are pushed more in the commercial industry who largely do not care if the story falls apart soon after it starts. The reader has already been caught in a purchase. As for readers, some give up on a book if the beginning drags on. They worry too soon that it may foretell the rest of the story.

In a book about writing I read that, if a writer thinks a device of words is necessary to insure the story is read, the story is better not to be written at all.

I write the beginning of a story without thinking about a catchy anything. I think the start of a story should be with the expectation that a buildup with an end is coming. The start should be done in a natural way with the development of the story.

Not long after I write the beginning of a story, I write the ending. It gives me something to aim for, even if I probably change the ending when I get there. Probably the beginning, too.

I just make sure the beginning and end connect with the middle, which is enough for a story.

Begin to write the grant request

A grant request should be personal, unemotional, and informative. The request should read as if the grant writer faced foundation people who already heard others ask for money. The writer should make something of the request that is unique to the nonprofit.

As the saying goes: easier said than done. Yet, it is easier if the opening documents set the correct tone. All grant requests start one of two ways. A letter of inquiry (LOI) or a cover letter. An LOI asks for the application with nothing following. The cover letter introduces the application’s documents.

While the application is important, the LOI or cover letter set the tone for everything else that follows. The LOI and cover letter introduces the nonprofit, the project to be funded, and the purpose for the submission.

The LOI must give more information to get the application by stating the nonprofit’s goals, objectives, and how they match with the foundation. There is not enough room for details. Summarize the summaries. The writer will edge toward stating the facts, but add a little sincerity.

A cover letter is like a handshake. All of the project information is in the following documents. Such as details about the project, a budget, and confidence the foundation’s money will be well spent. The cover letter is a welcoming and an opportunity to give details about the project’s successes that is not found in the application.

Some people may say a grant application is a matter of filling out forms. Of course, it is not that simple. It is a matter of understanding the reason a foundation would fund a project and explain this with unemotional sincerity. Spend some time on the LOI or cover letter and this could help lead to a better application.

It takes time to create

In my attempt at being a published short story writer, I try to spend more time being creative and less time finding a home for my stories. Finding a magazine to send my short stories to can take a lot of time.

Over the years, I used sources such as Duotrope (costs to subscribe, but worth it), Poets and Writers Literary Magazines database (free, but please subscribe to their great magazine), and the annual Writers Digest Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Using these sources saves time from randomly searching the internet.

I also use a spreadsheet I created with over 250 magazines who publish stories similar to what I write (see the blog post “Keeping Track of Things). The spreadsheet doubles as a way to keep track of the stories I send out.

After I narrow down my search to a few magazines, I go to the magazine’s website for more information.

I read what the magazine has published, the editors’ biographies, their mission statements, and submission requirements. One of the most important items is meeting the word count. I stay at least 500 words below their maximum number of words because shorter is generally better.

When I finally pick a magazine, I follow the submission process exactly. I don’t want my story rejected because of a technicality. And, the most important part of the process is spelling the editor’s name correctly.

What this is all about is the expense of time. Writing and getting published are about many things, including writing a good story. Having enough time to do this creativity and finding someone to like what is written is important.

Relationships (again)

I wrote an earlier blog post about the relationship between a grant writer and a nonprofit. This time I’m writing about the relationship between a nonprofit and a foundation.

Whenever money is involved, relationships become more important than the money. Foundations want confidence nonprofits can spend money efficiently and effectively. Nonprofits need money to do this. Both sides should talk.

The nonprofit’s managers should take the first step and start a conversation by calling the foundation’s leadership. This should be done before any written grant request is submitted.

Starting a dialogue is not a problem when a nonprofit has stories to tell. Such as how they improved someone’s life. They can talk about documented results and plans for the future. Things stated in a written request, anyway.

This is what it’s about: people talking to each other. Many nonprofits write grant requests without ever talking to the foundation, hiding behind the submission process. Having a dialogue is a substantial bonus.

It gives the nonprofit’s managers a more personal way of telling who they are, what they are about, and why they want to help people. However, at this time they should not talk about the money.

That is only for the written grant request. Conversations are about building a relationship, which should lead eventually to a visit between the two organizations.

Whether the nonprofit’s managers talk to the foundation’s leadership or not, I always try to talk to the foundation’s staff before applying for a grant. I have had some great conversations that were very helpful in writing the grant request.

Nonprofits and foundations should talk to each other to get a better understanding of each other’s needs. This so they can continue succeeding.

P.S. which cow is the nonprofit and which is the foundation?

Books on Writing

Like many writers, I read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style several times (it’s a short book). Nowadays, books on writing have more imaginative titles like Sin and Syntax, Eats Shoots and Leaves, and The Transitive Vampire.

The current books with their creative themes are good because they generate interest in writing readable English. But, we should not ignore older books on writing, even with their plain titles. Things haven’t changed that much.

I recently read A Handbook of Short Story Writing by John T. Frederick, published in 1924, and If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, published in 1938 (recently reprinted).

Both had basic writing advice that is just as good as the current books. One advice I found useful: a writer should always write to someone.

It may be a stuffed toy, an imaginary friend, God, or someone the writer knows. It could be a small audience of people, a bigger group in a specific genre, or the writer through a diary. When writing, there is the intent of a reader.

Back to books about writing.

People who write text messages, emails, notes, or shopping lists do not need to read books about writing. Those who want to communicate by writing, should.

Whether it has an imaginative title or was written a hundred years ago, writing readable English means writing so a person could be understood clearly. Whether a writer is writing to someone, no one, or to themselves, there is the hope of a reader.

Getting Organized to Tell a Story

Telling a Nonprofit’s Story

Before submitting for grants, nonprofits need to be organized and ready to tell their story. Like querying a magazine to publish a short story, the story has to be ready for submission.

One of the most important places to be organized is the nonprofit’s online presence. Many times, what a nonprofit has online is as important as what they provide the foundation.

Every nonprofit should have at least their own website and Facebook account. The website is where they do business. The Facebook account is where they interact socially with the public. When a foundation receives a request for funding, they are likely to go to the nonprofit’s website and Facebook to learn more about them.

Another important item of communication is the elevator speech. I pretend to explain what a nonprofit is about while riding an elevator five floors with a foundation president. The doors close, the person is a captive audience. The doors open and they are gone into the masses. Hopefully thinking about how great the nonprofit is and not about how I was pestering them.

The elevator speech is not a mission or vision statement. It is a summary of what the nonprofit does and why they exist. It should be placed on the website’s home page and as an introduction on all requests for funding. Something easy to remember (or at least the highlights).

Once a nonprofit’s story is known, writing a grant is just a matter of following the foundation’s guidelines and templates (not really, but the asking is easier).

The Length of the Story

Several decades ago, a viable market existed for stories at 5,000 words or more. Now, the market for short stories drops off quickly after 4,000 words. This creates more competition for lengthy stories and leaves writers with reduced chances for publication.

I try to keep my short stories to no more than 3,500 words, usually less. To do this, I place my stories in a single time period and in a particular place with no more than three main characters. Focus is important.

Each word of description and dialogue should support the plot without the reader asking questions. Each event has to relate to the story in a direct way. There should be no more than one subplot, preferably none. Ignoring these points, the word length grows quickly.

Some short stories are just not made to become short stories. They may be an outline for something longer like a novel. If I find that a short story does not want to be short, I try to break it up into several pieces to try to tame it.

It generally does not work. In one case, I gave up and turned the short story into the novel it wanted to be. At the other end, sometimes a novel can be nothing but a series of short stories.

I wrote a book that just did not work. To salvage something out of it, I made five of the chapters into short stories and three were published.

I find it is best to listen to the story and let it grow into what it wants to be.

Quote: Keep writing and the truth is revealed quietly one day.

 

What I learn from creative writing that I use for grant writing

Writing short stories has helped me a lot to write grants. Not the part about making stuff up, but how to think creatively and find places to send my stories (or grants).

Creative writing develops characters, introduces conflict, and presents a solution (mostly). A grant writer develops the story behind a community’s need and finds the resources to fund that need.

Yeah, this doesn’t really compare that well. Maybe with examples.

For example, writing short stories gave me the skills to write concise. I learned to write in the active voice and be conversational. I learned how to move a plot along quickly to a conclusion.

Grants require concise writing because of limited space. A writer has to tell everything in as few as words as possible. Like in short story writing, every word counts. Writing in active voice helps.

Active sentences use fewer words and explain things more directly. Also, using words from everyday conversation help define a need better than using broad, scholarly words.

Short story writing also helps in research. With each story, I try to match what I wrote with what a publisher would accept. I learn to follow the guidelines exactly when submitting. This is the same for submitting grants. The simplest thing is to follow guidelines, which is where most people mess up.

Finally, all writing requires editing skills. There are an over exaggeration of material to learn from, but the best is to simply re-read what was written. Over and over.

Ask questions about each separate thought as if someone is reading it to you and you have questions about each separate thought. Don’t be upset if you yell at yourself for writing some nonsense. It just needs to be rewritten.

In the picture, who represents grants and who is about creative writing?